A strong come­back

Twenty years after Gianni's mur­der, Ver­sace has re­dis­cov­ered its soul.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living -

TWENTY years ago, stylist Gianni Ver­sace was gunned down in Miami, the United States, plung­ing his fash­ion house into cri­sis.

Two decades on, it is one of the world's top global lux­ury brands thanks to his lit­tle sis­ter, Donatella.

He had gone out for the morn­ing pa­pers and as Ver­sace re­turned to his Miami beach man­sion on July 15, 1997, he was shot dead by An­drew Cu­nanan, a pros­ti­tute known for his ob­ses­sion with all things lux­ury.

The fash­ion world mourned deeply. The stylist to celebri­ties from Madonna to El­ton John had been just 50 years old.

“He was a real artist, he had a pure cre­ative vi­sion on colours and ma­te­ri­als,” said Ste­fa­nia Savi­olo, direc­tor of the lux­ury and fash­ion cen­tre at Boc­coni Univer­sity in Mi­lan, Italy.

The group he had cre­ated with his brother Santo in 1978 had been one of the hottest fash­ion brands in the world.

It fell to Ver­sace's plat­inum blonde sis­ter Donatella – to whom Gianni had en­trusted the ca­sual line Ver­sus – to take over as artis­tic direc­tor.

But the brand strug­gled to re­cover from Ver­sace's mur­der.

Donatella, who had worked for 14 years along­side Gianni, was se­verely af­fected by the loss of her brother and con­fessed to feel­ing “vul­ner­a­ble”.

“You can't in­vent yourself as an artis­tic direc­tor overnight,” says Savi­olo, par­tic­u­larly as Donatella took over “at a time when fash­ion was chang­ing a lot, with many col­lec­tions and great pres­sure on artis­tic di­rec­tors”.

Donatella, in­stantly recog­nis­able for her fa­mous locks and per­pet­ual tan, sank into a pe­riod of de­pres­sion and co­caine use be­fore detox­i­fy­ing in 2005.

The year be­fore, the brand had ac­quired a new CEO in Gian­carlo Di Ri­sio. The for­mer Fendi boss re­fo­cused the Me­dusa on the lux­ury mar­ket, stream­lin­ing li­cens­ing and fran­chis­ing deals and de­vel­op­ing

the ac­ces­sories range.

Amid ru­mours in the press of a fall-out be­tween the family and Di Ri­sio over planned cuts, he was re­placed in 2009 by Gian Gi­a­como Fer­raris, who moved over from the Jil Sander fash­ion house.

Fer­raris wasted no time in launch­ing an ex­ten­sive re­or­gan­i­sa­tion plan to re­turn Ver­sace to prof­itabil­ity, cut­ting 25% of its work­force and clos­ing some bou­tiques be­fore open­ing new ones as the books im­proved.

His in­ter­ven­tion dou­bled the turnover and by 2011 the his­toric

brand had re­turned to profit after a gru­elling three years of losses.

“The right bal­ance was struck be­tween Fer­raris and Donatella, the di­a­logue be­tween them was good and there was great re­spect for Donatella's cre­ativ­ity and vi­sion,” Savi­olo said.

The family, which had al­ways re­fused to re­lin­quish con­trol to a lux­ury con­glom­er­ate like so many of its fel­low Ital­ian fash­ion houses, fi­nally yielded a 20% stake in 2014 to pri­vate eq­uity firm Black­stone.

The move, which Donatella said would al­low Ver­sace to “achieve its po­ten­tial”, re­sulted in a cash in­jec­tion into the lux­ury de­signer and boosted its pres­ence in emerg­ing mar­kets.

The bet paid off de­spite a dif­fi­cult global con­text, sales in­creased by some 17% in 2014 and in 2015.

The house said it was time to “move onto the next phase” and Fer­raris was re­placed in May 2016 by Jonathan Akeroyd, for­mer CEO of Alexan­der McQueen.

Savi­olo agrees “Ver­sace has re­cov­ered its lost ‘red car­pet DNA’ and its style is cur­rently very dar­ing, very strong.”–

— Filepic

The late Ital­ian de­signer Gianni Ver­sace (left) with his sis­ter Donatella at a fash­ion show in 1997. Two decades after his death, Ver­sace re­mains one of the world’s top global lux­ury brands.


Gianni pic­tured with top model Naomi Camp­bell dur­ing a Ver­sace pre­sen­ta­tion.

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